Why Mel Laird is Worried About Afghanistan

President Nixon, right, congratulates Gen. Alexander Haig after presenting him with the Distinguished Service Medal at the White House, Jan. 4, 1973. Also present are, left, presidential adviser Henry Kissinger and Secretary of Defense Melvin Laird.
AP Photo

I came to Washington in 1969 during the Nixon Administration. My first beat was the Pentagon and the Secretary of Defense was former Republican Congressman Melvin Laird, who I came to believe was - with the possible exception of Lyndon Johnson - the best politician I ever knew, certainly one of the wisest.

Mel and I became lifelong friends. He is well into his 80s now, but he is as sharp as ever. And he is worried - worried about the all-volunteer Army that he helped to create, and worried about where we are going in Afghanistan.

In a letter last week, he said the volunteer force far exceeded his expectations, but that we are asking too much of it now, and the "multiple deployments and disregard for the personal and family life of our troops and their emotional well-being threaten to undermine our national security."

Afghanistan worries him even more. He first went there in 1953, and he said "its culture is tribal, not nationalistic, yet we hope to build a nation there … we've fought eight years and lost 1,000 Americans, yet we are no closer today to stability, let alone victory."

Laird remembers how bad intelligence and misunderstanding led us to Vietnam and he wonders now if we have made the same mistakes again. "I know something about misguided wars and how easy it is to get mired down in something that started with the best intentions," he said.

Mel Laird's opinion is one view, and there are others. But Mel Laird has seen a lot. If he's worried, so am I.

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    Bob Schieffer is a CBS News political contributor and former anchor of "Face The Nation," which he moderated for 24 years before retiring in 2015.